This is a guest post from Stuart Delery, the Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Division.
“Gloria” was thrilled to get the call telling her she had won $5 million in a Jamaican lottery. In her 70s and living alone, Gloria had never been to Jamaica. But she wasn’t about to turn down a windfall. All Gloria had to do to collect her enormous winnings was pay the taxes and insurance—up front.
A week later, the lottery called again. Gloria’s prize had increased because other prizes had gone unclaimed. Just a few more taxes to be paid and she would be financially secure for life.
But, there was no lottery and there would be no winnings. Gloria was the victim of scam, a growing number of which target seniors.
All told, Gloria lost almost $30,000—her entire nest egg.
At the Civil Division of the Department of Justice, we are working hard to strengthen our role in protecting consumers from predators like these. With the help of our law enforcement partners at home and abroad, we are bringing criminal cases against lottery scams—seeking not just convictions but also restitution for victims. And we are giving priority to fighting criminals targeting vulnerable populations.
But we’re not stopping there. We are also working with consumer advocacy groups, like AARP, to identify trends in fraud and support outreach and education to keep people from becoming victims in the first place. As one example, AARP’s new book, Outsmarting the Scam Artists, offers a rare peek inside a lottery fraud scam—helping consumers spot these cons before they get taken.
Economic crimes can destroy lives just as quickly as violent ones. So, during this year’s National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, I hope that by sharing stories like Gloria’s we can prevent others from falling victim to similar scams. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that 92% of lottery and sweepstakes fraud victims stay silent out of embarrassment or shame, so we are encouraging victims to come forward and report these crimes at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov. Because when they do, that’s when law enforcement can make the biggest difference.
Stuart Delery is the Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Division. He oversees criminal and civil enforcement of federal consumer fraud laws through the Division’s Consumer Protection Branch.
*Names and details of victims have been altered to protect their privacy.